Aditi Brennan Kapil’s smart, graceful new play, “Love Person,” might sound overly elaborate in description, but it doesn’t come across that way. Billed as a “modern romance told in English, Sanskrit, American Sign Language and projected texts and emails,” this complex piece about the way we communicate and connect never loses sight of the simple. Its characters yearn deeply for rich emotional connections and often awkwardly navigate the terrain of words (and signs) in order to find them. Ultimately, the play possesses a profundity less about the languages it employs than the universal human loneliness its characters struggle to overcome.The story concerns three relationships, all involving different paths of communication. Sanskrit scholar Ram (Rajesh Bose) studies and adores ancient love poems but lacks the confidence even to translate them himself. Vic (Cheryl Graeff) is a twice-divorced woman overeager in both romance and drink, making her an ideal fling during Ram’s vacation. He prefers his communication through the emotional distance of email; she leaves an ineloquent drunken voice message. Then there’s Vic’s deaf sister Free (Liz Tannebaum) and Maggie (Arlene Malinowski), Free’s hearing lover — or, in a literal translation from ASL, “love person.” They communicate via ASL (with translations projected), but Free expresses the feeling that after years together they still speak “a different language.” And, finally, through a slightly contrived but tolerable plot twist, there’s the mistaken-identity relationship between Ram and Free, who strike up a texting dialogue (also projected), with Ram thinking he’s corresponding with Vic and liking it. Kapil and director Sandy Shinner make all these complications work, and for the most part, it’s unfussy. The story itself is relatively straightforward — will Ram or Vic figure out that he’s fallen (at least in part) for Free, and will it matter? And while a play juggling sign language, texting and dialogue sounds confusing, the characters simply communicate however they can. Kapil — who is of Bulgarian and Indian descent, grew up in Sweden and now lives in Minneapolis — has a genuine feel for the ever-present act of translation. Particularly appealing are a couple of highly theatrical sequences when we simply hear love poems in Sanskrit, with Free translating them into ASL. What matters is less the words — after all, if you don’t know sign language or Sanskrit, they’re nothing but sounds and images — than the expressiveness of the signing and Free’s emotional connection to the poetry. The performances are all good, but Tannebaum’s is the most deeply felt. She’s a dynamic and rich performer, and the connection Free makes with Ram is the most surprising and believable in the play. Sometimes, the work gives way to a certain preciousness, particularly at the end, as Kapil attempts to wrap up the emotional threads of Free and Maggie’s issues and can’t do much more than rely on the sentimental. And the production’s unit set, from designer Jeff Bauer, feels overdone and inexpressive. But this play, which premiered at Mixed Blood in Minneapolis, definitely marks Kapil as a young playwright to keep an eye (and an ear) on.
Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago; 299 seats; $48 top
A Victory Gardens Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Aditi Brennan Kapil. Directed by Sandy Shinner.
Set, Jeff Bauer; costumes, Carol Blanchard; lighting, Christopher Ash; sound, Andre Pluess, Michael Griggs; projections, Mike Tutaj; production stage manager, Rebecca Green. Opened, reviewed May 26, 2009. Runs through June 14. Running time: 2 HOURS.
Ram - Rajesh Bose Vic - Cheryl Graeff Maggie - Arlene Malinowski Free - Liz Tannebaum